What’s happening in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries?

The coronavirus pandemic has monopolized much of the world's attention for months now, but the conflicts and crises plaguing some of the most vulnerable countries have not stopped. In some cases they have only gotten worse. Here's a look at what's been happening in some of the world's most intractable hotspots in the months since the COVID-19 crisis took center stage.


Venezuela turns to Iran: For several years Venezuela has been mired in one of the world's worst economic crises, which has made access to food and medication extremely difficult for ordinary Venezuelans. President Nicolas Maduro seems to have weathered the challenge to his political power, but the economy is another story. The country's crucial oil sector, already gutted by US sanctions and mismanagement, has taken a further hit in recent months as the pandemic sent the global economy into a tailspin. As a result, even as coronavirus clobbers Latin America, many Venezuelans have expressed greater fear of dying from starvation than of contracting COVID-19. It doesn't help that the country is now running out of gas – and fast. Workers are waiting in long lines to fill up their tanks, while fuel shortages are preventing sick people from accessing medical care. This week, Maduro turned to another US-designated pariah for help: Iran. The Islamic Republic obliged by sending five oil tankers carrying an estimated 60 million gallons of gas across the Atlantic, a move Maduro hailed as a "victory."

Yemen's civil war grinds on: Last month, a temporary ceasefire between the two warring sides – Saudi-backed official government forces and Houthi rebels backed by Iran – raised hopes that Yemen's five-year war might be nearing its end. The truce had been backed by the Saudis, in what some analysts said was a sign that that the kingdom wanted an out: Oil prices are less than half what they were a year ago and the coronavirus is having a big impact on the kingdom's economy. Meanwhile, Riyadh's involvement in "the world's worst humanitarian crisis" was complicating its ties with Washington. (Congressional Democrats and Republicans tried several times to block arms sales to the Saudis over their involvement in Yemen, but the move was blocked by the White House.) Hours after the UN-backed truce came into effect, Houthi forces continued their drive to capture oil-rich Marib province. Since then, the fighting has only gotten worse, with the Saudis launching some 190 retaliatory air raids in recent weeks, according to the Yemen Data Project. So far, repeated appeals from the UN to halt fighting as several COVID-19 clusters have been identified around the country, have been ignored, despite the fact that Yemen has little hospital capacity to deal with an epidemic.

South Sudan's fragile peace: After six years of civil war that displaced some 4.5 million people, sparking Africa's largest refugee crisis, the nine-year old country of South Sudan has experienced relative calm in recent months owing to a unity-deal that brought rebel leaders into the government led by President Saalva Kiir. But sporadic violence between rival ethnic communities has continued in eastern Jonglei state, prompting fears that conflict could spill over into the rest of the country. In the first quarter of 2020, inter-communal violence killed some 658 civilians, while looting, mass rape and abductions have continued unabated, the UN says. These inter-communal clashes have been getting worse in recent years as fighters gained access to assault weapons. Now the fate of the recent unity deal hangs in the balance in a country where some 7.5 million people rely on some form of aid to survive.

Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick joins That Made All the Difference podcast to discuss how his career as a surgeon influenced his work as an educator, administrator and champion of underserved communities, and why he believes we may be on the cusp of the next "golden generation."

Listen to the latest podcast now.

It's been a bad week at the office for President Trump. Not only have coronavirus cases in the US been soaring, but The New York Times' bombshell report alleging that Russia paid bounties to the Taliban to kill US troops in Afghanistan has continued to make headlines. While details about the extent of the Russian bounty program — and how long it's been going on for — remain murky, President Trump now finds himself in a massive bind on this issue.

Here are three key questions to consider.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Yes, still in the middle of coronavirus, but thought I'd give you a couple of my thoughts on Russia. Part of the world that I cut my teeth on as a political scientist, way back in the eighties and nineties. And now Putin is a president for life, or at least he gets to be president until 2036, gets another couple of terms. The constitutional amendments that he reluctantly allowed to be voted on across Russia, passed easily, some 76% approval. And so now both in China and in Russia, term limits get left behind all for the good of the people, of course. So that they can have the leaders that they truly deserve. Yes, I'm being a little sarcastic here. It's sad to see. It's sad to see that the Americans won the Cold War in part, not just because we had a stronger economy and a stronger military, but actually because our ideas were better.

Because when those living in the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Block looked at the West, and looked at the United States, they saw that our liberties, they saw that our economy, was something that they aspired to and was actually a much better way of giving opportunities to the average citizen, than their own system afforded. And that helped them to rise up against it.

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Jon Lieber, managing director for the United States at Eurasia Group, provides his perspective on US politics:

How likely is bipartisan action against Russia in light of Taliban bounty reports?

I think it's probably unlikely. One of the challenges here is that there's some conflict of the intelligence and anything that touches on the issue of President Trump and Russia is extremely toxic for him. Republicans have so far been tolerant of that and willing to stop any new sanctions coming. I think unless the political situation or the allegations get much worse or more obvious, that stalemate probably remains.

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When hundreds of thousands of protesters in Ethiopia brought sweeping change to their government in 2018, many of them were blaring the music of one man: a popular young activist named Hachalu Hundessa, who sang songs calling for the liberation and empowerment of the Oromo, the country's largest ethnic group.

Earlier this week, the 34-year old Hundessa was gunned down in the country's capital, Addis Ababa.

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